On Saturday 3 February you will have the exclusive opportunity of following Biotopia and me out into the wild following the tracks of gray wolves in their natural habitat. Please see more in the video below. Please note that the tour is in Swedish.
Continuing the tradition of reviewing the year that has passed, here is my story of 2017. It tells of the projects, the excitement, the difficulties and everything else that happened during the year.
Waking up to the first day of 2017 I began the year with a breath of fresh air in the winter chill, and wrote: “I open the door and go outside to feel what 2017 is like. I take the air in. It smells fresh, new and unspoiled. I hear birds chirping in the ambience as the sun throws its first rays. There is an aura of potential in the wind.”
While I enjoy the optimism of said quote, the real life situation for conservation of the world’s biodiversity is less optimistic. More and more species – along with the genetic diversity in existing species – are disappearing. But then again, why not at least enjoy the ride?
For me, 2017 offered its fair share of adventures and personal challenges. Perhaps the greatest experience of the year was traveling back to Brazil to work with puma. In late March 2017, Programa Amigos da Onça managed to collar a female puma. The team had already spent more than 80 days in the field trying to collar jaguars and pumas. I was there with them in September and October of 2016, but we were without luck. So when they finally managed to collar Vitória in March, I quickly gathered my gear and flew back to Brazil in early April.
What I wanted to do hadn’t been tried before in Caatinga. I wanted to see if and how much this puma was predating on livestock. This is perhaps the main reason these cats are threatened in this environment. As livestock owners suffer losses, they (illegally) kill pumas and jaguars. While I’ve successfully used this method on Eurasiand lynx and brown bear in Sweden, there was great uncertainty as to how it would work in this environment in Brazil. Luckily Vitória kept not extremely far from passable roads and trails. Had it been further away then the logistics would have made it nearly impossible.
So after meeting up with the team in April, I began field work later on in the month and worked throughout May with gathering data in the field. It was the second most difficult field work I have done. Not only was the environment impossible to penetrate, with countless of thorny plants everywhere, it was also very warm and we had to wear thick clothing not to get ripped into pieces by the vegetation. Add to this that we had to bring all the water, food and other equipment we needed for sometimes up to several days of hiking.
Another unwelcomed addition to the experience was that a few weeks prior to me traveling to Brazil, I injured my left leg. Every step I took hurt a lot, and even more the more I walked, especially if I bent over. As you have probably figured, this was exactly what we did most of the time: hiking while bent over (not to get thorns in the eyes) in rough terrain. Hearing of my work in Brazil, people often tell me: “Wow! What an amazing experience!” Yeah, well, definitely an important project, but also very painful and difficult.
When I arrived home to Sweden in late May I felt like almost kissing the ground. I also decided I would do no more field work abroad for the coming six months. Working in Brazil was a humbling experience. It was difficult, but I am happy I did it.
Other experiences I had during the year was a short wildlife census in north-eastern Uppsala county in February. In March I spent one week teaching photography and carnivore tourism for a wildlife education in northern Värmland. In April, myself and Emil Nilsson of Biotopia spent a night at a bear hide in Gävleborg. We saw two brown bears during the night and later produced a podcast and an article from the visit. We were also seen in Upsala Nya Tidning during our quest to find lynx. Speaking of articles, I also wrote about snow leopards for Forskning & Framsteg and wolves in Germany for Våra Rovdjur. Interestingly, Germany now has more wolves than Sweden. We also ran a competition where you could win a snow leopard book, and had a small exhibition at Gottsundabiblioteket in Uppsala.
During the winter, Biotopia produced a few videos where I show how to identify tracks from Eurasian lynx, gray wolf and brown bear. Later on in the year, they also released three videos where I talk ten things that you probably didn’t know about lynx, wolf and bear, respectively. I also held a couple of guided tours for Biotopia doing snow tracking of lynx and wolf (there will be another couple of chances for this now in February 2018!).
Later on in the year, beginning in November, I would also go on to work at Biotopia as they have a carnivore theme running from November 2017 until February 2018. A lot of what I do there is talking large carnivores in Uppland and making carnivore pawprints in clay for the visitors. Besides talking carnivores at Biotopia, I also held another few other talks in 2017, among them for a conservation biology education at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and another at Uppsala University, talking carnivore conservation.
Beginning in December, I would begin with censusing Uppsala county for large carnivores for the County Board of Uppsala. It was good to get out into the field in Sweden again. I have missed snow. This work will continue throughout the winter.
So, that wraps up some of the things that happened during 2017. All in all, it has been an eventful year full of interesting experiences, both difficult, important and equal parts fun and thrilling. Let’s see what 2018 will have to offer!
Peace and love to all friends and everybody reading this! ❤ ❤ ❤
Biotopia has released three videos where I talk ten things you probably didn’t know about gray wolf, Eurasian lynx and brown bear, respectively. See the videos in Swedish below. English versions will be due in 2018.
I also want to take the opportunity to wish you a happy Christmas! 🙂
In the past few weeks I’ve been out in the field in Caatinga in eastern Brazil studying the diet of a female puma. This is the first time that puma has ever been studied in this biome.
What I’ve done is I have visited sites where she has stayed for a little bit of time in order to see what she has done there. Was she eating something or just resting? The most important thing I have been wanting to find out is how much does she prey on domestic animals. This is very important because there is a lot of poaching of jaguars and pumas since they do kill and eat livestock. But how common is it? Are the farmers exaggerating or is it a real problem? And what could be done to alleviate this conflict?
The field work was very difficult due to the harch environment of Caatinga. The plants are thorny and the vegetation is thick. Many plants have fish-hook thorns that would rip a normal t-shirt into pieces in a matter of hours. Also, for each step you take, there is at least one plant there to trip you. When going off-track, we progressed about 500 meters per hour. Luckily, to my help was Ananias, a local who came to be my field assistant. With his help I could use the many trails that exist which helped a lot.
Ananias and I trekked on average ten hours per day in sweltering temperatures in this rough environment visiting these cluster sites. The temperature where we worked averaged about 30-35 degrees C in daytime. Add to this the clothes necessary to protect against the vegetation and it soon becomes very warm.
Some of the interesting things about working in this environment is trying the local fruits that grow ever so seldom. Running in to a mango tree after trekking a long distance was a great experience and I think that I have never tasted mangoes that sweet. There have been a lot of other interesting fruits, too, which I can’t even pronounce the names of.
There have been a lot of interesting finds in this study. This is the first time ever that this species has been studied in this biome, making it a pioneering study. I will now get down to analyzing the results. Hopefully this will lead to us being more able to protect pumas and jaguars in this area in the future – so that we can have a green planet full of life.
The project has been done as a part of Programa Amigos da Onça.
After a third and long field campaign of 45 days (!), Programa Amigos da Onça in Brazil has amazingly managed to collar a puma. This has taken a long time and the team has had to endure difficult field conditions. In total, the team has spent more than 90 days in the field in three field campaigns spanning September 2016 until now.
So, in the last days of March, a beautiful female puma named Vitória has received a GPS-collar. The name is suitable, as it means “victory”.
As a result of this success, I have now traveled to Brazil where I am currently in Petrolina preparing for field work. I am very happy that my part of the project can now get going. In the coming weeks, I will be investigating Vitória’s diet by visiting kill-sites to see her predation on wild animals and domestic animals. This will give us highly valuable information which will help us save the puma and jaguar in this area.
As a hint on the importance of the project: We can already see that Vitória has passed a farm, where the owner found tracks in the sand and, as a result, put out traps to catch her. This is unfortunately very common and shows how imperative it is to help alleviate the conflict between herders and the large carnivores. Hopefully, this is what the Program can now do.
Once again, I wish to thank everybody that has donated to the crowdfunding project! If it wasn’t for you then these next steps would not be possible.
You can read more on the Facebook page of Programa Amigos da Onça (in Portuguese but please use translate), and please click Like there to follow the work.
The brown bear is the largest land-dwelling carnivore in Sweden. It can weigh up to 350 kg and feeds on a mix of berries, ants and moose calves. On Monday 3 April, I traveled up north to Gävleborg to spot for this large amazing carnivore.
Sara Wennerqvist has a hideout for brown bears and this is where I went. Joining me is Emil Nilsson from Biotopia. We park the car on a dirt road next to a stream out in the forest. As the roads have just begun thawing we cannot go the ordinary way. Instead, we pack our equipment into rucksacks and begin walking along a trail. We pretty soon come across old tracks of brown bear in the little snow that still remains. The weather is typical for April, sunny and springlike with birds chirping in the ambience and ravens floating about high up in the air.
After trekking for two and a half kilometers we see even more bear tracks. This time they are between one to two days old. And the good thing: The hideout is just nearby.
Emil and I go into the reconstructed little hut at around 16:00, and after installing ourselves, sitting in our sleeping bags with cameras ready to use, we begin what will become a silent night, whispering and being as still as we can in order not to scare animals away. We begin spotting intensively at the surroundings through the thin glass windows of the hut.
An hour goes by and we are joined by even more ravens floating around. Several woodpeckers play on the branch of a tree to our left. Apart from this, we have not seen anything.
Another hour goes by. Now the sun is very low, its beautiful warm colors blanketing the pine trees around us. I am thinking that it is quite joyful sitting here spotting. Then suddenly, like out of nowhere, I see a big dark shadow approaching cautiously from the left! Like struck by a reality check I quickly poke Emil who is looking elsewhere, giving him a sharp look and a thumbs up. He can’t see the creature from where he is sitting. Cautiously I take out my smaller camera to get ready. It is a brown bear. A big brown bear.
25 meters. 20 meters. It approaches slowly and cautiously. I can see that it is worried about something. Is it us? Can it see us, hear us or smell us? It does not seem to react when I take pictures or whisper to Emil, so maybe it is not us it is worried about. The bear finds some of the food that Sara has hidden underneath a rock and runs away as soon as it got what it came for.
But it soon comes back. 25 meters. 20 meters. 15 meters. 10 meters. Now Emil can see it, too. Suddenly the big bear is right in front of us – only ten meters away. They are very powerful animals. I can see its muscular body as it sniffs and searches for something to eat. We can see this bear on and off for about 30 minutes before it vanishes into the dense forest.
Then only half an hour later there is another dark shadow approaching from the left. This one does not seem as anxious as the first. It knows where to look to find its food. Its head is surprisingly bright and it has a dark body. This bear is probably the reason the first one was so cautious. The big brown creature accompanies us on and off for the rest of the night, sometimes approaching only up to ten meters. It does not seem bothered by our presence, and it might not even notice us.
Later on, as several hours have passed and just as I am about to go to bed, Emil whispers that he can hear something through his parabolic sound recorder. He can hear steps in the undergrowth. An animal is coming closer. It is the bear coming up one last time before we call it a night, and before it is too dark to see something. By this time, all I can see is a big dark shadow, lumbering around outside of the hut. And then just like that – it is gone.
If you are curious of trying this, please see http://www.wildnordic.se for more information.